As rewarding as it might be, according to several studies, teaching is a very stressful job. A 2017 survey by the American Federation of Teachers found that 61% of teachers reported that their jobs were always or frequently stressful. In the same survey, 58% said they were experiencing poor mental health due to stress. The 2020 pandemic has only made these mental health concerns worse.
But, as a teacher, there is a lot you can do to help you manage your stress levels and improve your mental health so that you can enjoy teaching.
Tips to protect teacher mental health
Caring for your mental health is just as important as your physical health and should be prioritized. Here are our top teacher’s mental health tips:
Boundaries are an important part of stress management. Setting a boundary around work, relationships with students and parents and your personal needs is a great way to feel less stressed and overwhelmed.
For example, turning off notifications on your phone once the school day is done is a type of boundary you can set. Or setting specific hours for grading papers, which can easily bleed into personal time.
Having strict work hours and rules for yourself around communication with students and parents can help you maintain your mental and physical energy. This will also help improve your overall mental well-being.
Create school programs and policies
When you feel in control of your work life and environment, this can help reduce stress. School leaders are likely concerned about their teacher’s mental health and well-being and want ideas to improve this critical aspect of health for all staff members.
Consider suggesting a mental or physical wellness program for your colleagues and other staff members. This can involve recognition or rewards programs, small group counseling for staff, physical activity breaks or even a visit from a mental support pet.
Speak up to provide suggestions for what would make you and your colleagues feel appreciated and positively impact your work life. Taking control of your work environment can also help you feel more confident and empowered, a great way to improve your mental health in teaching.
Become aware of mental health month
Mental Health Awareness Month is in May. This month's goal is to provide awareness and resources and share stories of people struggling with mental health concerns. Several organizations create events or provide resources to help everyone positively manage their mental health.
Consider suggesting a focus on mental well-being during the month of May at your school. Ask for participation from your administration, parents or even the larger community. Consider hosting your own events or offering mental health breaks during the work day.
Avoid toxic work situations
Work situations can sometimes become toxic and increase your stress levels. A good way to handle these situations, at least initially, is to avoid them. This may mean avoiding certain people, committees or events that make you feel stressed out until you can come up with a plan to handle them in a more positive way.
Have a growth mindset
A “growth mindset” is a mindset where you learn to thrive on challenges, rather than seeing them as barriers or obstacles to happiness. Basically, you face each day-to-day challenge with a positive, can-do attitude, realizing that many challenges are also opportunities for mental and emotional growth.
Teach with gratitude
Being grateful for the positive things in life, maybe a student you were able to help learn to read or a colleague who showed up randomly with a coffee is a great way to manage stress. It is easy for our minds to jump to what is wrong in life, but when we take just 5-10 minutes to focus on what is right (even if it's just a tiny thing), this helps us see things differently.
Start your day with gratitude, or even consider starting a daily gratitude practice in your classroom. This will help start each day on a positive note, helping reduce stress.
Good physical health helps support mental health. In fact, exercise is one of the best ways to improve mood and reduce anxiety. Eating healthy can also help, as nutritious food provides the nutrients your brain needs to function optimally.
Try to exercise 30 minutes daily, even if it's just taking a walk during your lunch break. Eat a well-balanced diet of plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats. Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night for optimal brain function. When you focus on your physical health, your mental health often follows suit.
Have hobbies outside of teaching
Hobbies are a great way to keep your mind off work stress. What do you love to do? Maybe it’s a physical activity, like hiking on your days off. Or maybe you love gardening, which can help reduce stress and anxiety through a deeper connection with nature.
Use your mental health days
We all need a break, and that’s what scheduled mental health days are for — use them! Try to take at least one day off per quarter to do nothing or enjoy something you love. When you return, you will feel refreshed and ready to tackle work issues head-on.
Develop a support system with your principal and counselor
The best support you can get is from your principal, counselor or other administrators. They have a vested interest in protecting teachers’ mental health. Keep an open line of communication with the administration at your school about challenges or other circumstances that are causing stress.
By working together to support teachers’ mental health and well-being, the students, parents and the entire community benefit.
Visit urgent care
If you need help assessing and treating mental health concerns, visit the experts at one of our urgent care locations. You can walk in without an appointment, or you save your spot online. We are open 365 days and during holidays. We’ll have you back to feeling better in no time.
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant